Should politicians be able to draw congressional districts to favor members of their own party? That is the question considered by Supreme Court justices in late March. If they decide that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, the ramifications for politicians and voters across the nation will be large.
The case at question in March’s deliberation involves a lawsuit over a Maryland congressional district. The district in question was represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the last decade. However, after the 2010 census, Democrats redrew the district to give their party’s voters a large advantage. This is something that Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of the state at the time, admitted during a deposition for the case. He said that the new district “would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican, yes, this was clearly my intent.”
In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled against efforts to draw congressional districts in ways that disenfranchise minority voters, but it has upheld congressional districts drawn with partisan ends in mind. This time, however, some justices appeared to think that the Maryland gerrymander was so partisan that it may have crossed the line into discriminating against Republicans based on their political views.
Some observers point out that if the courts get involved in determining how much partisan gerrymandering is too much, it will lead to many more lawsuits over district lines at not only the state level, but will also involve legislative and local election districts. They say that partisanship is the norm in redistricting, and that the only way to cure it is through the ballot box, not the courtroom.
Others say that there are ways to reduce partisanship, such as using independent commissions for redistricting. Governor O’Malley, no longer in power, said that he now favors such a commission to draw congressional and legislative lines.
The Supreme Court will announce a decision in this case, as well as a similar case involving Wisconsin, later this year.
Do you think that the Supreme Court should rule extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional? Or is it wrong for the courts to get involved in political disputes over election lines? Is an independent commission a better way to draw congressional districts than leaving it to politicians?